Outlaws: The Illustrated History of the James-Younger Gang, by Marley Brant, Black Bell Press/Elliott & Clark Publishing, Montgomery, Ala., 1997, $29.95.
When it comes to Old West personalities, Jesse James is probably No. 1 in the minds, if not the hearts, of most Americans. As Marley Brant puts it in the introduction, “Jesse James would become America’s foremost folk hero, ranking first above Mickey Mouse and Mark Twain in an international survey of famous Americans.” But Jesse was no loner when it came to robbing banks and trains, of course. Brother Frank and the Youngers–Cole, Jim, John and Bob–head the intriguing supporting cast, and if you want to know Jesse better, you certainly can’t ignore these fellow gang members. The gang’s all here in this 224-page book by one of the foremost authorities on the James-Younger Gang. Brant, author of the much acclaimed The Outlaw Youngers: A Confederate Brotherhood, also puts the robberies in proper context. “The Gang,” she writes, “originated out of three men’s urgent need to take action during the oppressive Reconstruction.” In other words, they were Rebels who were not allowed to give up the fight, because of the oppressive postCivil War policies of the victors. It might be added, however, that Jesse and the boys continued the fight with a bit more determination and ruthlessness than most. Brant, who has been researching these outlaws for about 16 years, takes a hard look at what motivated their crime spree and also details the James-Younger realities that have often been obscured by powerful myths. More than 200 photographs, many of which have not been previously published, help bring the drama to life.